Author’s Name 1
17 August 2009
That American communities are experiencing the rapid democracy decline is beyond
any doubts. The discussed crisis has covered a broad range of issues and circles, but beyond
that, the crisis has resulted in the emerging erosion of journalism – the journalism that used to
be the major reflection of democratic initiatives for years. In their article, Nichols and
McChesney argue for and discuss the issue of the gradual collapse of journalism, which leads
to the loss of political and public accountability in America. For the authors, government
support and intrusion look like the most viable options for the restoration of journalism, and
although the merger of the government and the media may seem an explosive mixture, in the
light of the current political knowledge, and against the background of the present day
political realities, this solution stands out as the matter of reviving official journalism in the
form, which will promote media as the instruments of informing citizens and as the matter of
connecting young people to reporting and news.
In their article, Nichols and McChesney elaborate on the painful topic of democracy
decline across American communities. For the authors, “it is not the economic meltdown,
although the crisis is related to the broader day of reckoning that appears to have arrived”
(Nichols & McChesney). On the contrary, the crisis Nichols and McChesney seek to explain
and resolve comes out as the most serious threat to democracy: in other words, they talk
about the crisis of journalism and its subsequent decline. Everything began with the media
Author’s Name 2
becoming non-profitable institutions, and where great regional dealers were going bankrupt,
smaller newspapers were fighting to survive in the media market. The crisis, however, was
not limited to the media but has resulted in the general crisis of journalism: the current media
are struggling to become celebrity-obsessed profit centers, instead of being journalistic icons
(Nichols & McChesney). Neither the Internet nor the economic collapse can be held
responsible for the current journalism decline; rather, the process of its erosion can be traced
back to the times, when mergers and media conglomerates started to replace authentic
journalistic incentives, in order to satisfy customers and to use this satisfaction as the source
of increasing profits. Short-term profits were prioritized; professional journalism was watered
with less expensive stuff, simultaneously making younger generation disinterested in
journalism. For Nichols and McChesney, there is no solution better than to vote for
government intervention, and at this point of discussion, the media and journalism become
the matters of the growing political concern. Will government intervention result in the
growing interdependence of official information sources and the media, or will it lead to the
global dependence of the media on the state? Nichols and McChesney make an emphasis on
the historical fact that our media are anything but free market institutions; and thus, the
government cannot inherently threaten something that does not exist (namely, media
independence). At the same time, if the government simply gives Americans a tax credit on
the sum they spend on newspapers, this will look like a form of indirect government subsidy,
which in no way threatens political neutrality of newspapers and other media – the neutrality
that appears to be irrelevant and almost meaningless.
I agree to Nichols and McChesney, because I believe that the media that comply with
government’s information demands are more likely to be granted a share of independence.
What I mean is that the media, which can develop strong ties with various government
bodies, are more likely to be given a unique opportunity to develop their professional activity.
Author’s Name 3
With the governmental support, they can establish relatively independent and stable media
institutions, which would compete with each other, and which would also urge the
government to rewrite the rules of its public policies. Without governmental support, the
media will not restore themselves as the sources of true journalism; nor will they be able to
connect themselves to the younger generation. It is government that can create conditions
necessary for continuous flourishing of journalism as the matter of political representation
and democratic expression in America.
Looking back into the history and politics of media, media in democratic societies are
usually expected to fulfill the three major roles: (a) to provide a forum for political parties
and candidates before a national audience; (b) to develop and contribute to informed
citizenship; and (c) to be a kind of a “watchdog” by judging and reflecting the acts of
governments and to closely follow their political actions (Lyengar & McGrady 19). These
functions imply that media are initially independent from governments, and exercise
sufficient volume of authority to be watchdogs and informed citizenship tools in democratic
societies. But this is theory, and the political media reality is very much distanced from what
textbooks are trying to promote. When Nichols and McChesney vote for active government
intervention, they in no way threaten the stability of the current media system, but on the
contrary, give it a second try. Not government intrusion, but private ownership can seriously
complicate the current situation in media.
It is difficult to deny the fact that “when governments own and operate major
television channels, or regulate them heavily, as is quite common throughout the world,
programming tends to uncritically support government policies, even in democratic
countries” (Graber 32), but that private media owners are likely to distrust business ethics and
to misuse their corporate rights against the principles of journalism is also obvious. The Big
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Five example shows that media conglomerates and mergers are complex operational and
financial structures, and their directors often maintain close friendly relationships, which
cannot benefit journalism. It is becoming a popular gesture to include into the board of
directors someone, who holds a well-known name associated with philanthropy (Bagdikan
51). Only in case of Rupert Murdoch, board members of his media corporation also include
directors of British Airways, Rothschild Investment Trust, and others (Bagdikan 51). Thus,
what is the sense in such media? Can they be fairly regarded as the instrument of contributing
to informed citizenship or being an effective watchdog for government’s actions?
Unfortunately, history confirms that the era of true media independence is in the past; more
truly, media have never been completely independent, and where government subsidy can
give a chance for the revival of journalism, corporate mergers on the contrary, do not make
any use except for tying journalists to their profitability goals.
Many professionals and politicians hold the Internet and technology guilty and
responsible for the current state of journalism in America. The Internet is considered as the
major source of true journalism decline. In reality, technology in general and the Internet in
particular, have led to the growing abundance of available information which, in its turn, also
signified the society’s transition to post bureaucratic politics (Bimber 15). Technology had to
result in the growing information bias toward those who are responsible for the political
information; technology had to disrupt bureaucratically justified organizational structures in
media, but with the growing economic and political bias, the impact of technology was
muttered by the growing weight and influence of political elites. It would be correct to say
that technology confirmed and emphasized the interdependence between economic and
political aspects in media – the interdependence which Nichols and McChesney also discuss
in their article.
Author’s Name 5
It appears that where competition in the political market grows, elites are required to
manage news; at the same time, where media firms strive to minimize their costs, they are
also bound to be influenced by elites, which will make news attractive and interesting to
consumers (Entman 20). This, however, does not mean that media corporations are more
capable of withstanding these political pressures than small newspapers; on the contrary,
media corporations are shown as the organizational entities increasingly interested in
minimization of their costs and promoting profitable news. In this situation, and bearing in
mind that the media market is far from being independent from the state and government,
government intrusion can hardly harm journalists. The events in Grenada confirm the
growing government power in suppressing the undesirable information from becoming public
(Lyengar & McGrady 95). Without government, the media will hardly survive the difficult
times. They will hardly be given a unique chance to develop and expand. It is very probable,
that without government the media market will turn into a single monopolistic conglomerate
without any sign of fair competition. As such, government support looks like the most viable
source of media support in present day political environment.
For Nichols and McChesney, government intrusion looks like the most appropriate
measure against the continuous erosion of journalism. For the authors of the discussed article,
government intrusion is in no way associated with discrimination but on the contrary, is
expected to give the media a stimulus for revival, reasonably balanced with appropriate level
of official control. Profound historical analysis confirms that current media are anything but
free and independent. They are being governed by numerous elites; media conglomerates
impose their profitability rules on journalists. As a result, proposed forms of government
subsidies and tax credits can substantially improve the overall state of journalism, as well as
to help journalists resolve eternal political-economic media dilemma.
Author’s Name 6
Bagdikan, B.H. The New Media Monopoly. Beacon Press, 2004.
Bimber, B. “How Information Shapes Political Institutions.” In D.A. Graber, Media Power in
Politics, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2007, pp. 9-18.
Graber, D.A. Mass Media and American Politics. University of Illinois at Chicago, 2006.
Entman, R.M. Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics.
Oxford University Press, 1989.
Lyengar, S. and J. McGrady. Media Politics. A Citizen’s Guide. W.W. Norton & Company,
Nichols, J. and R.W. McChesney. “The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers.”
2009. The Nation. 17 August 2009.